John Kruth & La Societá dei Musici - Forever Ago

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:2018-04-09
John Kruth & La Societá dei Musici - Forever Ago
John Kruth & La Societá dei Musici - Forever Ago

John Kruth might be best known as the author of compelling biographies on Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison and Roland Kirk. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and New York Observer, among others. His latest book, A Friend Of The Devil: The Glorification of the Outlaw in Song from Robin Hood to Rap is another enlightening tome in his oeuvre. What readers may or may not know, is that John Kruth is also a talented multi-instrumentalist/songwriter with 10 solo albums to his credit. He also leads the world music ensemble, TriBeCaStan and has opened for the likes of Violent Femmes. His latest, Forever Ago might just be one of his finest offerings.

Recorded in Umbria, Italy with Claudio Scarabottini and La Societá dei Musici Forever Ago is an eclectic meeting of American Roots and classic Neapolitan stylings.

The album kicks off with the zany travelogue of, ‘Picnic In The Sun’. “112 in the Valley of the Gods…I spelled your name out with potato chips and I drew a heart around it with the onion dip,” Kruth sings. Despite the off-beat sense of humor, its ultimately a song about being lonely on the road. Kruth’s vocals having some sweet Bruce Springsteen grit, cut with the quirky charm of say, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.

‘Goodnight Sylvia’, serves as a sort of fan’s notes to Sylvia Plath on the surface. But with repeated listens, the identification with Plath takes on a deeper tone. “I wonder if you ever laughed,” Kruth opines. And one can help but suspect he may not be talking about Plath at all, but someone a little nearer and dearer to his heart.  

‘Forever Ago’ is a gorgeous Dylanesque love ballad which takes its inspiration from a the sight of a woman in a red dress dancing the Tarantella on a summer’s eve. A sight that brings on a wave of ennui and homesickness What good is art “when you are an ocean away”? he sings with road weary yearning. Its one of many travelogues on this long player. Each song like a postcard, dashed off by an ex-pat in exile and sent to some address unknown.

Other highlights include the folksy and haunting, ‘Wild Birds of Heaven/Into The Forest’ which wades into some serious instrumental territory, giving the mandolins a chance to forage for their supper. The likes of Fairport Convention can’t help but come to mind.

The front porch blues of ‘Mr. Crow’ is an exercise in soulful economy, Kruth accompanied only by spare hand claps and some mesmerizing harmonica. We're greeted with another quirky travelogue in ‘Drivin’, which seems to be about being lost in the Florida Everglades. By contrast, ‘Vacation’ is a truly affecting ballad fraught with surreal visions.

The album’s eclecticism comes to a fore with the Old-World Folk of ‘Share The Failure/ The Grinning Reaper’ followed by the wry, Randy Newmaneque piano balladry of ‘Christmas Eve’. Elsewhere, ‘Blonde’ gets downright funky putting the “Ahhhh in Blonde’. None of which prepares you for the bluesy, ‘Checkers With The Cat’. Taking the classic “my baby up and left me” lament and stretching it like taffy into absurd proportions.  

The sounds of Umbria are all over, ‘The Old Communist’. It also can’t help but bring the late, great Leonard Cohen to mind. At times, it could even have tip-toed away from closing credits of The Godfather. Then, all too soon, we’re sent packing with the bleakly psychedelic, ‘Hunting For Water’.

Stylistically, Kruth and La Societá dei Musici are like bees bouncing from flower to flower and yet, it all goes to show these buds share similar roots in addition to fertile ground. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel or the Decemberists will find Forever Age hard to resist.  Also recommended for any fan of vintage Psyche Folk

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